A New View of the Ocean
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
A New View of the Ocean
If someone were to ask me a year ago where my favorite place in the world was, I would have said the ocean. I loved the ocean. I loved everything about it: the smells, the sounds, the way warm sand felt between my toes and a cool breeze felt against my face. I also loved how little I felt in comparison to the large mass of crashing waves, and the feeling of being absolutely free from all distractions: free to run up and down the beach like a child exploring for the best seashell, or if I was lucky, a sand-dollar. I loved the whole experience, from sunup to sundown, until one day when I witnessed another side of the ocean I had never seen before.
The day my whole ocean perspective changed started off like any other early Saturday morning; my husband Travis and I were up before our two-year old son Jace, and we were discussing what we should do on such a beautiful June day. After a minute of sharing ideas, Travis suggested the ocean-a prime example of why I fell in love with him in the first place. I was elated. Like a child who just found out she was going to Disneyland, I jumped off the couch and dashed to get ready. We kept a beach-bag prepared for the most part, so all we had to do was wake Jace, pack some clothes and a lunch, and we were off to Santa Cruz.
The ride there was wonderful. Jace did not make a fuss the whole way-anyone who has spent time with a two-year-old would know what a rarity this is! We enjoyed a little bit of talking and a whole lot of singing; it was turning into a fabulous day. When we reached Santa Cruz, we realized we were not the only ones who were looking to be beach bums that day: the town was busy, and the beach was packed. It took us a little while to find a suitable spot, but when we did Travis stabbed our beach umbrella into the sand as if he were staking claim to our homestead.
The ocean was freezing, but Travis still wanted to take a swim. Knowing Jace would want to follow his dad, I put his life vest on. I stood there at the edge of the shore, holding our son's hand as the waves hit our feet and watching Travis dive under a wave. When the wave finally settled, I watched my once lifeguard-of-a-hunk husband doing his scary sea-monster act, with seaweed he had grabbed from the ocean floor. He was always acting like a goofball to get a laugh out of us, and of course, he was successful in delighting us with his playfulness. He did not stay long in the water because it was so cold and decided to go warm up while Jace and I played some more. That is when our day turned upside down.
There was a little boy, maybe three or four years old, who was playing in the water with his older sister. His sister looked beyond bored and would run back and forth to their parents, ignoring her little brother. As Jace and the little boy began to play together, I noticed that the sister had been gone for a while; moreover, I felt as if I was the only one watching the other family's little boy. I remember at one point thinking, "Did someone just leave a three- or four-year-old to play in the ocean by himself?" I felt stuck: Jace was having a great time, Travis was up on the sand tanning his back, and I was watching someone else's child.
After a little while the little boy became braver in the water. I remember holding Jace back and telling the boy to be careful, but he acted as if he did not hear me. I also remember holding Jace's hand firmly and looking back to see where the little boy's sister or mother were; I was beginning to feel very concerned. As I was scanning the beach for the boy's family, I remember hearing my mom's voice in my mind: "Never turn your back to the ocean." I quickly turned back around, but it was too late-I saw what I desperately did not want to see. The little boy had dropped his blue shovel, and he was going after it. The ocean had removed its jovial, benevolent mask and looked cruel and voracious. I kept yelling, "No! No! Come back!" but he did not listen, and from one second to the next he was pulled under a wave and out of my sight.
I stood there on the beach with my son feeling more stuck than I have ever felt in my life. My eyes had not left the place where the little boy went under. The question that went through my mind was "Do I endanger my own child's life for someone else's child?" But before I could realize it, my natural instincts and adrenaline had taken over; I had picked my son up with a death grip and had plunged waist deep into the freezing water that I had shivered away from thirty seconds before. Everything from that point on went into extreme slow motion. I remember methodically asking myself, "What will the ocean do next?" The building wave that pulled the boy under had peaked, and I watched his bright orange shirt go up into the wave and crash back down. I kept thinking to myself, "He needs to breathe, he needs to breathe!" I realized that he was most likely behind me, as the wave crashed against my waist. I continued to scan the water. As the wave was beginning to recede, I spotted the little boy's orange shirt again. He was being pulled right to me, but he was about a foot under the water. As I clenched onto my son, I reached down like a bear fishing for salmon and snatched the little boy up out of the ocean. In the split-second between grabbing a fistful of his shirt and pulling him up to the surface, time suddenly seemed to speed back up again.
I was now standing in freezing waist-deep water, with my son under one arm, and holding a little boy whom I had never met before up by his T-shirt. Thankfully, another woman came out to meet us and grabbed the little boy. As I turned around, Travis and the little boy's sister and mother were running towards us. I kept asking the little boy if he was okay, but he could only look at me blankly with his big brown eyes before he started to cough and cry. Travis came and grabbed our son, and the mother grabbed her little boy. As I walked back to what had been the happy little spot we had claimed a couple of hours prior, I began to shake uncontrollably. The realization of what had just happened hit me. A thousand thoughts raced through my mind from "What if I had dropped my son?" to "What if the little boy was not wearing a shirt and he slipped through my hand?"
Thankfully, everyone left the beach alive and healthy that day, but my perception of the ocean was forever changed. I saw a dark side to the ocean: I saw it lure a little boy out and toss him like a rag doll. I saw the sheer strength of the ocean, and while it is beautiful, it is very dangerous. My family and I have still not been back, and I am still haunted from time to time with the image of the little boy's face under the water. I found out later his name was Jordan, and he was more concerned about his missing blue shovel than about almost drowning. I hope he and his parents never forget that day, because I know I won't.